LOS ANGELES (CBS News / AP) ― Both the Pentagon and NASA concluded Wednesday that an airplane and not a missile launch was the likely cause of a large vapor trail in the skies off Southern California’s coast earlier this week.

CBS News on Monday evening videotaped the vapor trail that many viewers thought resembled the cloudy track of a missile in flight. But military officials said they did not know of any rockets being launched in the area.

Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Col. Dave Lapan said that officials were satisfied the phenomenon was an airplane vapor trail distorted by camera angle, winds and other environmental factors.

“All of those factors together leave us pretty confident that this was a contrial caused by an aircraft,” explained Lapan.

He said military experts studied the video and talked to all the government agencies that might have been involved in a missile launch and none reported having launched one.

NASA experts agreed with the Pentagon that an airliner likely caused the billowing contrail that resembled a missile plume illuminated by the setting sun.

Scientist Patrick Minnis of NASA’s Langley Research Center in Virginia said he examined satellite images of a horizontal contrail recorded at the time of the sighting and concluded that it came from an airplane.

“I would conclude that the contrail was from an aircraft between 33,000 and 43,000 feet that left a spreading contrail that was wide enough” to be seen in the satellite imagery, he said.

“A missile could look like that, it could potentially have a contrail that shape,” added Minnis’ colleague Al Bowers, associate director of research at NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center in the Mojave Desert. “(But) the motion looks a little suspect to me, and my conclusion would be that, yeah, it’s most probably an aircraft.”

Mick West, who runs a website devoted to contrails, said he too knew it was an airplane the moment he saw the video.

“It’s coming more or less straight towards you and it’s in level flight,” said West. “It’s not climbing. It’s not descending. It’s probably around 35,000 feet.”

How can that be when it looks for all the world as if it’s climbing into space?

“The same contrail that looks like a rocket – from the side it, just looks like a contrail passing by,” said West.

On viewing the video of the mystery missile, West said he had an answer.

“I’ve got a fairly good idea that it was U.S. Airways flight 808 from Hawaii,” he said. “Honolulu to Phoenix.”

A webcam photo of flight 808 taken Tuesday evening compared to a still frame from the mystery video shot Monday evening looked virtually identical, according to West.

Missile and satellite launches are routine along the California coast.

The area of ocean perceived as the seeming liftoff point Monday night is in the vicinity of a Navy ocean range where missiles are often launched from vessels, platforms and San Nicolas Island.

Up the coast is Vandenberg Air Force Base, where satellites are lofted into polar orbit and intercontinental ballistic missiles are launched on unarmed test flights to targets thousands of miles away in the Pacific Ocean. Three ICBMS were launched between June and September.

Many of these launches are invisible to the metropolitan area, shrouded by the layer of moist marine air that often rolls in from the Pacific. Others are lost in the brightness of daytime.

But launches on very clear nights or at twilight sometimes trigger numerous calls to media or authorities reporting unusual sky sightings from hundreds of miles away, even from neighboring states.

No such spontaneous public response occurred Monday night in the greater Los Angeles area, suggesting that the image captured by the airborne camera was not apparent to ground observers.

(© 2010 CBS Broadcasting Inc. and The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

Comments (12)
  1. Luke Chun says:

    That ain’t no airplane vapor trail…

  2. SFBeacher says:

    Agreed. Probably some ” errant weather balloon.” LOL

  3. Dave says:

    Another UFO coverup! When is the government going to come clean about the Roswell Area 51 alien reconnaisance project? They have been convening with alien leaders for years, and the people have a right to know about it. As it stands, there are thousands of aliens among us, and some may be our neighbors or coworkers. Wake up, people!

  4. Rick says:

    That Pentagon spokesman is leaving a vapor trail of his own.

  5. VR says:

    i am an alien from the far reaches of outer space, and i approve of this message.

  6. TT says:

    Jet contrails are narrower than the jet (since the engines on board are than vehicle propelled) at point of exit. At 35 miles away the very thick vapor trail at the point of engine exit – well it would be a very very large jet, or a smaller vehicle with a relatively large size engine as one would expect from a missile. You decide.

    The military may have many reasons not to explain the event for security reasons and that is fair if no one was in danger. Their job is to protect us, not explain everything they do. Yes, that involves trust, but we have some excellent people serving us in our military – the vast and overwhelming majority. so I’m not concerned about a missile test they don’t want to explain.

    It would make more sense to just say that is the case rather than beat around the bush if that is the case. I think that is what frustrates people and peaks their curiosity…

  7. PATCO says:

    I’ll bet it’s the ‘Ballon Boy’ Family trying again to get their own reality TV show.

  8. Phill G says:

    Release the full 10 minutes of footage. No way the geometry of this trail is a contrail at 26,000 + feet.

  9. jo says:

    Its BS….I was on a Jet Blue flight around 1:30 pm that day and saw an Aegis Cruiser from 10K ft. ….I know this because I had to turn off my Ipod on approach to long beach. I noted the two tall towers on the cruiser which is the signature for that ship ……phased array radars…..which also houses their antimissile system. Based on the contrail and the yellow dot on back of the end of the missile and the trajectory and the swirl to the contrail it was definitely a missile…..my theory is that the launch officer dropped his starbucks and hit the red button by accident. Additionally the cruiser was on a heading of around 300 due north just about where the launch was seen

  10. Dave says:

    Maybe it was a Bottlerocket !

  11. redrazor says:

    I heard about how one of China’s navy submarines sneaked into the middle of one of our biggest naval war-game maneuvers a couple of months ago. They popped up right next to one of our aircraft carriers and embarrassed all the Navy top brass to no end. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if it was Chinese sub that launched a missile just to show us how easy it would be for them to destroy LA or anything else they wanted to on the West Coast. They’ve been using the billions of dollars that we are paying them (interest on our debt) to build a Navy and other military branches that includes super destroyers that are too big to fit through the Panama Canal even. We taxpayers are paying for all their military build up; so they can rule the world in the next 20 or 30 years. They’ve also been using all our money to enter into contracts with all kinds of African nations to extract their precious (not available in China) resources like iron, copper, oil, aluminum etc. Our military and political leaders have been asleep at the wheel for so many years now, it’s only a matter of time before missile shows in the sky will be the least of our worries.

    1. David says:

      To bad we can’t see the video in it’s entirety. If it was a missile we would see the tell tell signs of unspent fuel leaving a multicolored vapor trail at a certain altitude. This unspent fuel multicolored vapor trail is apparent on every launch that I have witness. I ‘d say unless somebody can actually pin point the actual culprit in this mystery (and I’m not talking about a blogger looking at a web cam of a flight 24 hours later) this one should be chalked up to an UFO of unknown origin. Not extraterrestrial, not man made, but of unknown origin.

      nuff said

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